Yesterday I attended one of the breakfasts held as part of the Australian Festival of Travel Writing (thanks to my invitation which came from My Fench Life/Ma Vie Francaise), where the speaker was Olivier Magny, French writer and wine expert, and author of Stuff Parisians Like, and its French version Dessine-Moi Un Parisien. His latest book Into Wine, is so new it’s not yet even on Amazon, but you can see it on Olivier’s website. I was especially pleased to attend the Saturday breakfast as this was the one conducted completely in French.
Before meeting Olivier I had read parts of each book in both languages, and actually found it funnier in French, so if you can read it in that language, I encourage you to do so. Copies of both were on sale after the breakfast and I was delighted to be able to buy a French copy and have it signed by Olivier. I also bought a copy of his book Into Wine for my partner, a bit of a wine buff, who declares he is finding the book very interesting.
Olivier now runs a wine bar and wine tasting business in Paris, called Ô Chateau, which looks absolutely delightful, and is definitely on my must-do list.
For more information, you can read this interview with him in My French Life.
March 24, 2013 1 Comment
An article in my local newspaper on a recent France-Germany ‘friendly’ soccer match at the Stade de France informed us that the commentary box had been officially baptized with the name Thierry Roland in memory of the legendary French TV soccer commentator. This is what I wrote about him in Chapter 11 ‘A Sporting France’ of my book François Théodore Thistlethwaite’s FRENGLISH THOUGHTS:
The French require absolute loyalty from their TV sports commentators whose role is to provide constant proof that they fully share the 150% commitment of the average viewer to their sporting favourites. A supreme example of the ideal type of commentator was provided by the late Thierry Roland whose partisan devotion to the French soccer cause not only endeared him to his sporting public but has made of him a legendary figure in the field of soccer commentary.
Just one example of his sectarian allegiance was supplied by an international match I watched on TV some years ago. It is, of course, normal that the elevated position of a TV commentator should sometimes give him a far better vision of the game than its referee who can, in all fairness, on occasions not see everything. At one point in the match (which had a high level of what is commonly termed ‘physical commitment’), a defender from the foreign team committed a disgraceful foul on a French forward, which the referee failed to notice. ‘Foul, monsieur l’arbitre, foul!’ Monsieur Roland howled into his microphone. A few minutes later a French defender was guilty of what could possibly have been an even worse foul on a foreign attacker, which the referee (he must have been English) once again seemed not to notice. ‘Oh, the referee is nearer than me!’ Thierry Roland calmly declared.
On another occasion during a France-Bulgaria soccer match, so great was Thierry Roland’s passionate commitment to the French cause, and so vigorous his hostility to the referee (who had just proved he was doing his best to deny the French a just victory by awarding a penalty to the opposing team), that in a moment of uncontrollable fury he announced to millions of viewers: ‘Monsieur Foot, vous êtes un salaud!’ (Mr Foot, you’re a bastard!). This considerably increased his popularity with the French sporting public: for in view of the hundreds of supportive letters received, the T.V. channel which employed him announced that previously-envisaged sanctions against his strong language would not be taken. And surprisingly, the referee in question was Scottish, not English.
Indeed, a chapter within a chapter could be devoted to the more colourful sporting comments of Thierry Roland, and the following are just three of his more memorable pronouncements:
‘Those two won’t be spending their holidays together!’ ‘The flies have changed donkeys’ (the team that was previously winning is now losing) and, when France won the 2002 World Cup: ‘Now we can all die in peace … but as late as possible!’ Unfortunately, his wish hardly came true as he departed our planet last June at the relatively premature age of 74.
by guest blogger Barry A. Whittingham, the author of ‘François Théodore Thistlethwaite’s FRENGLISH THOUGHTS’. You can follow his blog here: http://www.frenglishthoughts.com
February 10, 2013 No Comments
I have just been to a delightful Candelmas crêpe party here in Paris, where I indulged in far more pancakes than I care to admit. Candlemas is such a lovely word, although seldom heard these days, and of course the French occasion, officially held today Sunday 3rd February, is known as la Chandeleur.
I remember long ago in England celebrating ‘pancake day’, also known at the time as ‘Shrove Tuesday‘. We were told in those days that the tradition came from the need to use up eggs, flour, butter and sugar, before the 40 days of fasting (or avoiding cakes and all sweet foods) intended to absolve practitioners of their sins in the period leading up to Easter. The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of the Old English verb ‘to shrive’ meaning to do penance or to confess one’s sins. Shrove Tuesday was also referred to as mardi gras, or ‘fat Tuesday’.
I don’t believe we have a special ‘pancake day’ any longer in Australia, if we ever did, but I could be mistaken. Perhaps it still exists in certain traditional religious communities. But we certainly have ‘mardi gras’, as most Australians would know, and for other readers I’ll explain a little later.
In France, eating pancakes on this day seems to be quite widespread, and separate from any religious connotations, although I realise my knowledge on this is based on my small circle of French friends and acquaintances.
French Wikipedia, however, defines la Chandeleur (Candlemas) as a popular religious event, with pagan origins, notably among the Romans who lit candles on this feast day of Lupercus, god of fecundity. The Celts did similar things each year in honour of their goddess Brigit, to celebrate fertility and the waning of the winter.
As Europe became Christianised, this festival was grafted onto the one celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the temple on February 2nd, associated also with the ‘purification’ ceremony of Mary, a traditional ceremony for mothers 40 days after the birth of a child.
In many countries the mardi gras period has also always involved carnival. This in turn has become a time for gay rights parades, in particular in Australia with the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian mardi gras, this year from February 8 – March 3rd. This is one of the largest festivals in the world, and is a big tourism event, attracting attendances of hundreds of thousands.
February 4, 2013 1 Comment
To say I’ve been spoilt lately would be an understatement. Most of us have heard of Edward Hopper, or are sort of familiar with his simultaneously homely yet somewhat mythological figures in his paintings. But I don’t believe it’s well known that he was very much a Francophile, and stayed in France several times in the first decade of the twentieth century; so much is being made of that in the current Hopper exhibition at the Galeries Nationales in the Grand Palais.
For a while it looked as if the exhibition was all sold out, but then last week in the middle of the freezing weather and a considerable amount of snow, a very kind friend gave me a ticket and took me with her for a Visite Guidée (guided visit). I’ve never had one of these before. Participants wear special earphones and the guide speaks softly into hers, but can be heard very clearly through the earphones worn by each group member. A bit like an automatic audio tour, but much better. And a fabulous experience for those of us trying to improve our French. Afterwards, filled with hubris at having understood it all, I was informed by my French friend that the commentary was really very easy!
Due to the popularity of the exhibition, it’s been extended: from now until the 31st January, it’s open Saturday to Thursday until 11pm each night, then from Friday 1st Feb at 9am, it’s open day and night until 11pm on February 3rd. These ‘nuits blanches’ (all-night showings) aren’t uncommon in France, but I don’t believe we have them in Australia…
January 31, 2013 No Comments
I wonder if Hemingway ever wrote at this table…
On the weekend some French friends of mine, inspired by the recent exhibition at the Grand Palais, Les Bohèmes, wanted to walk around the left bank. We ended up having lunch in La Rotonde, where I couldn’t resist doing a little writing. Opened in 1911, this cafe was for a long time the meeting place of painters such as Modigliani and Vlaminck. Between the two world wars it was the smoke-filled favoured haunt of newspaper columnists and reporters, as well as other writers, including Hemingway.
My favourite literary allusion to La Rotonde is the one in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. In that book, he writes that if you get in a cab in Paris and ask the driver to take you to ‘a cafe’, you will always be driven to La Rotonde.
The left bank is well known for its connections to Hemingway, and his A Moveable Feast is rich in descriptions of his life there, and the many cafes and other addresses he used to frequent, including Le Select where he often went for coffee in the mornings. I recently read a ‘restored edition’, of A Moveable Feast, edited by one of his sons and a grandson, which includes material that Hemingway’s last wife had cut out of earlier versions of the book.
But if you’ve read that, and would like a view of those years from the perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, a convincing and richly-imagined version of it is The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
January 29, 2013 1 Comment
On Saturday I noticed a few people in red cycling into the square below my apartment. On closer inspection, I could see they were dressed as Père or Mère Noels, complete with beards, hats, and garlanded bicycles. They were gathering to take part in the annual Father Christmas bike ride, or Balade de Père Noel, around Paris, organised by the local community organisation, Commune Libre d’Aligre.
The blurb about it on the Commune’s website loosely translates as follows:
“To liven up the arrival of bloody Santa Claus! Be all in red with Christmas slogans to blast the chimneys, and no humming of Christmas songs! Get out your posters, hoist the pine trees, make hoods. Rendez-vous in Aligre Square all dressed up in red, with your bike decorated at 2.30 for the bike ride around Paris. Don’t forget the mulled wine and other refreshing beverages we’ll share on the way.”
A quick search reveals there are versions of this event elsewhere in France, some called promenades, suggesting they are on foot.
The intrepid crew arrived back in the square in drizzly rain a few hours later, and cheers erupted from the people in the nearby covered market.
I found this a charming idea. Does anyone know of anything like this in Australia?
December 18, 2012 1 Comment